Alex Mitchell

After Three Years, PSIO Has Received An Update

Cybdyn Systems has released an update for their Playstation Optical Drive Emulator, the PSIO. Developed over the course of roughly three and a half years, this update aims to address a wide swath of compatibility and performance issues while adding new features—such as GameID functionality for use with products like 8BitMods’ MemoryCard Pro line and PixelFX’s Retro G.E.M. (nee, PS1Digital) HDMI mods. It also adds a new DRM scheme for updates, which I’ll elaborate on later in the article.

As the first commercially available PSX modification of its kind, the PSIO received a lot of early attention from enthusiasts, content creators, and homebrew developers. It is still unique among PSX ODEs for several features, including it’s ability to operate alongside the console’s original optical drive—giving the users the option to run backups from an SD card or their original discs. That said, even the latest version of the PSIO firmware still has limitations that significantly hinder the user experience. The most pronounced of these is that the PSIO is not currently compatible with “Redump style” multi-BIN/CUE backups, and requires the use of a Cybdyn Systems utility to convert those games to a PSIO compatible format.


The changelog for this update is too long to include here in full, so I have taken the liberty of pulling what I think are the most important items:

  • SD card writing has been implemented, enabling a new memory card utility that is accessible from the main menu.
  • The USB subsystem has been retooled and a new debugging system is in place.
  • A new method of booting software has been developed that should provide improved compatibility for certain titles.
  • GameID support (enables per-game features for things like the MemCard Pro and PS1Digital).
  • Menus should load faster and be more responsive.

Interested readers can find a complete changelog on Cybdyn’s website.

While I haven’t been able to exhaustively explore this new firmware, and I have discovered at least one bug with the way the PSIO handles GameID, this update seems like a step forward in all but one crucial way: Cybdyn’s draconian new DRM scheme. Before I say anything else about that though, I would like to acknowledge two things:

First: Bootlegging and IP theft do have a significant negative impact on independent creators and I deeply, truly sympathize with their plight. The retro gaming scene isn’t an especially lucrative market and some projects service vanishingly small niches, so when a product is copied and sold for less because those sellers didn’t have to front R&D costs—or they just use inferior components—it can have a devastating emotional and financial impact. I don’t necessarily begrudge creators for going closed source or finding other ways to obscure their work, because I understand that we don’t live in a perfect world and there are folks out there with no compunction about ripping you off.

Second: I do acknowledge the contradiction of invoking IP rights for a device that—if we’re being honest—a lot of folks will use to commit some kind of IP infringement. That’s a big discussion for another time, but what I will say is that original hardware is only going to last for so long, and the PSIO and other ODEs like it are unquestionably a necessary part of preserving the retro gaming experience. These products have legitimate uses, just like the MP3 players and VCRs before them, and their creators are not crying crocodile tears when their work is used without their consent.

With all that said, I have never experienced a more hostile DRM scheme in this market segment before. Allow me to outline the process it took for me to update my PSIO to the latest firmware:

  1. In order to even download the latest firmware, PSIO owners need to register an account on Cybdyn’s website with their PSIO serial number and order ID. If you ordered directly from Cybdyn’s website then that’s a fairly straight forward process, but if you bought your PSIO second hand or from a 3rd part seller like Stone Age Gamer (SAG) then you cannot directly register an account.
  2. In order for people like me to register their PSIOs, you have to contact the original seller and get them to transfer the PSIO’s serial and order ID to you. I can’t speak for other retailers, but for SAG customers there is an online form that you can fill out that automates the process. For anyone else, this process requires the former owner to initiate a transfer in their Cybdyn store account.
  3. Once the transfer has happened, you need to go to Cybdyn’s store to complete the transfer. For SAG customers, the transfer is free and the price reflects that up front. For everyone else, the price to complete the transfer is roughly $15AUD/$10USD.
  4. After you’ve settled your tab with Cybdyn and created an account, you can now download the latest PSIO firmware. The website gives you a ZIP with a MENU.SYS file in it, which you put on a FAT32 formatted SD card and insert in to the PSIO.
  5. At boot, the PSIO will install this new firmware and generate another file named CHAL.ENC on the SD card. When the process is complete, you need to power down the PSX, remove the SD card, put it in to your computer, and copy the CHAL.ENC to your hard drive.
  6. Log back in to Cybdyn’s PSIO customer account page and head back to the PSIO registration section. You now have to upload the CHAL.ENC file so that Cybdyn’s server can verify that you are using an authentic PSIO cartridge.
  7. The website uses the CHAL.ENC file to generate another file named RESP.ENC, which you need to download and put on your PSIO’s SD card. From this point forward you need the MENU.SYS and the RESP.ENC files on any SD card that you plan to use with your PSIO.
  8. You can now populate your SD card with software and use it with your PSX.

I have some… thoughts about all this:

  • Astute readers might point out that Terraonion’s update process is not dissimilar to Cybdyn’s approach, and they’d be kind of right. For the record, I also think that TO’s serial number based firmware distribution model is less than ideal but there are two ways that it is significantly less hostile to end users:
    • The first is that Terraonion’s existing products do not require any kind of OS on your storage to work, which means that they are at the very least functional in the absence of any kind of online infrastructure. If TO’s servers died tomorrow and never came back, I could use any of their products without too much fuss. With the PSIO, my understanding is that their server generates a copy of the MENU.SYS and RESP.ENC files that are locked to your specific serial number, and without those on the SD card your PSIO is totally useless. If Cybdyn’s servers went down tomorrow you would need to make sure that you had those files backed up indefinitely or you would risk bricking your PSIO.
    • The second reason TO’s process isn’t as bad is that registering and unregistering product serial numbers is simple and, crucially, free. When I sold my SSDS3 it was as easy as logging in to my TO account and clicking a few buttons—no fuss; no muss; and it didn’t cost anyone a dime.
  • I had trouble getting Cybdyn’s website to accept my CHAL.ENC file at first. Credit where credit is due: Cybdyn was very responsive to support requests and I was eventually able to update my PSIO, but we never quite pinned down what the problem actually was. Apparently my experience was an outlier, but it underscores the fact that requiring this many steps to update a firmware leaves a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong.
  • You may remember that Cybdyn famously left Twitter after being called out for doxxing customers that they suspected of either bootlegging or purchasing bootlegged PSIOs, and this account creation process requires giving Cybdyn your shipping address. If you ordered from them then obviously you’d have to give that information over anyway, but for privacy conscious people this is worth mentioning.
  • Cybdyn’s support infrastructure is in flux and their community engagement is a little unusual. Their official forums are currently closed and transitioning to a new framework; their support portal is on a different website and requires a separate account from your PSIO owner account; and their Discord server… well, I’ll just post the list of permissions you need to grant the Cybdyn Discord Bot in order to join:
A list of permissions Cybdyn requests for you to join their Discord server. I politely declined.

To summarize, this is an important update for the PSIO and I want to see continued support for this mod. At the same time, the DRM that Cybdyn has implemented here goes far beyond what I am comfortable with as a consumer and—frankly—makes it impossible for me to recommend the PSIO or any of Cybdyn’s future products.